Social anxiety disorder is more than a fleeting feeling of shyness. It’s a mental illness that can disrupt the regular flow of life, making everyday tasks and responsibilities seem impossible.
“When someone has social anxiety, they can experience it so severely that it inhibits their pursuit of life goals, prevents them from forming relationships, pursuing career or school, being assertive, or being in public places,” explains Larry Cohen, chair of the National Social Anxiety Center.
People with social anxiety often suffer in silence, their behavioral and emotional symptoms not apparent to friends and family. As the number of young adults with social anxiety continues to increase, mental health experts are trying to help dispel the notion that social anxiety is as simple to overcome as shyness.
Here are some numbers to help you understand the full scope of social anxiety disorder ― the number of American adults diagnosed, the number of symptoms and more.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that nearly 15 million American adults have social anxiety. Social anxiety dIsorder is the second most commonly diagnosed form of anxiety in the United States.
13 years old
Social anxiety disorder can develop at any age, but symptoms of the mental illness usually begin in adolescence around the age of 13. Cohen notes that this period of life, particularly around the time teenagers and young adults prepare for high school or college, is a vulnerable time of transition.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that more than one-third of those with social anxiety waited 10 years or more to speak with a doctor about their symptoms. “Socially anxious people know themselves that they need help, but they may not know help is available,” Cohen said.
Many times, social anxiety sufferers believe their mental illness is a personality trait, which causes them to confuse social anxiety with being shy or introverted. “They might be aware of having these experiences and being naturally introverted, but they may not realize they can get help,” he said.
9 physical symptoms
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are nine physical symptoms of social anxiety. Although symptoms can vary from person to person, the Mayo Clinic attributes symptoms of “blushing, fast heartbeat, trembling, sweating, upset stomach or nausea, trouble catching your breath, dizziness and lightheadedness, a feeling that your mind has gone blank, and muscle tension” to social anxiety disorder.
In addition to the physical symptoms of social anxiety, the Mayo Clinic reports that there are 11 emotional and behavioral symptoms that can possibly accompany the disorder. Many of the symptoms hinge on the fear of being judged by others, Cohen said. The emotional effects can vary in intensity, but are generally persistent feelings of fearing that one might be judged, an avoidance of activities or social situations for fear of embarrassment, and thinking that you’ll fail in social situations. Other symptoms include feelings of anxiety before attending an event, anxiety that lingers when you’re out in public, and a fear that others may notice you blushing, sweating, or acting nervous.
It’s estimated that roughly 66 percent of people who are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder will have some other form of a mental health problem, Cohen said. Depression is the most common mental illness to accompany social anxiety, along with other anxiety disorders and possible substance abuse.
A diagnosis of social anxiety disorder doesn’t mean you’ll continue to contend with the mental illness for the rest of your life. Cohen estimates that with the proper treatment and in following a therapist or doctor’s orders, you can typically begin to see improvement in your symptoms in as little as five months.
For those seeking professional treatment or more information on social anxiety, there are three organizations in the United States that Cohen recommends. The Academy of Cognitive Therapy is a good place to start for those searching for a therapist, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy contains further information on therapists and the various symptoms of possible mental illness, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides facts on mental illness, ways to manage symptoms and more.